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July 1, 2018

Judgment is a word that is thrown around a lot. One of the multiple Merriam Webster’s definition of “Judgment” is “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing careful judgment of the odds”. People talk about others as having good or bad judgment. They speak about the need for discerning judgment in certain situations.

Judgment is something you can place on a person, or situation. You can judge what someone did was right or wrong. You can make a judgment as to whether or not something is worth your time. We make judgments about anything from national politics to the calls of an NFL referee.  Your judgments are made based on what you know, experienced and feel. Your judgments reflect your personal values and what you care about.

The basis of good judgment is critical thinking. At this time in history, we are experiencing a true dearth of critical thinking and it seems something that is missing from our elementary and high school level academics for the most part. Rather than being taught HOW to think and hone our judgment, we’re taught WHAT to think from any one of our many authority figures: teachers, parents, and even political figures. Our early understandings of history, for instance, come from a very watered down and black and white thinking: “Columbus was a good guy because he ‘discovered’ the Americas”. It’s not until later on, if we’re lucky, that we shed this view.

In my mind, that’s dangerous and here’s why. Life is lived in the grays. It is complex. A lack of critical thinking leads to poor judgments being made. What initially appear to be small bad judgments can lead to very bad consequences. I’m talking major consequences, like World War II, in which an entire population was duped into hating wide swaths of their own society because they did not bother to discern or act upon the truth when presented with propagandized lies about Jewish people, LGBT people and others.

To put into a more modern day context, let’s look at the uproar over a “mega-preacher’s” the recent response (or what some have termed a lack of response) to hurricane Harvey. People have been in a fervor over the fact that Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church did not open to people as a shelter until a few days later and at a point in time when people had already been criticizing the church for not having opened sooner.

Now, in an effort at full disclosure, I happened to have lived in Houston from time I was about two and half years old until I was just about ten years old. I know the area, somewhat and by somewhat, I mean in that vague way that one remembers their childhood home, when they’ve been away for a great deal of time and things have obviously changed since. I have a great deal of love for the state of Texas, the city of Houston and for the people living there.  They are good, kind people, for most part. The kind of people that remember the words ma’am and sir with every sentence, though they have their share of bigotry, as any southern state seems to have.

I am also familiar with the work of Pastor Osteen. I’ve read and listened to some of his work on tape. I’m Jewish but the sense of positive thinking and hope which permeates his writing does appeal to me, even if it derives from what Christians refer to as the New Testament. I don’t really believe in any religious entities’ requests for donations or dues, but I find Lakewoods’ promotions no more offensive than my own synagogue’s rather large fees for attendance of High Holy Days services, vague “tikkun olam” collections at services, collections for the planting of trees in Israel or other related programs.

So when all of this hubbub about Joel Osteen came to pass, it was with my critical mind that I digested what was being said. First off, I knew that Pastor Osteen’s Church was once the arena where my favorite basketball team played and where my mother took me to Barbara Mandrell sing, as a young girl.  It was known as “The Summit” when I lived there. I knew that the property was on the outskirts of the downtown area. I also knew from new reports that the downtown area was the worst affected by flooding, particularly from the Buffalo Bayou.

Buffalo Bayou is akin to the Rillito River dry bed which runs through the northeast part of the city of Tucson Arizona. In Arizona we call them washes, in Houston their called bayous and are covered in beautiful thick grass until such time as the rains come and fill them up to capacity.

Because I knew all of this, I knew that The Summit had previously been flooded during heavy rains and hurricanes and might have been prone to be flooded again. I also knew that the major freeways like the 610 and I45 were also flooded during the rains, making it very difficult for those who really were in need to reach the property. I later learned that when Lakewood acquired the property, they had built flood walls to prevent the major flooding that had previously. Those flood walls were nearly breached during the storm and there was in fact, some minor flooding of the building.

I also gave some thought to what they actually had to offer at the time of the greatest flooding. They have no means to feed people, no means to give water to them, no beds or blankets, and limited sewer facilities. They had little more to offer than a place to get out of the rain and that’s if the building weren’t flooded or guarantees that the building wouldn’t flood if the water rose even further. Not to mention that there would be means of providing security should bad people do what they do best, bad things.

After giving this all the logical thought to the matter, I concluded that the “outrage” was unlikely invalid. It illogical for people to expect Joel Osteen to open the doors to Lakewood Church under the circumstances as I understood them. I used deductive reasoning. I did not allow what anyone had said one way or another, in the form of opinion, to sway my opinion. I simply used what I knew to be true fact.

Others have the same facts before them and may come to another judgment because they are ignoring part of the picture, in my opinion. That’s their prerogative. Vociferously, they have stated their case for their displeasure with Pastor Osteen.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with me over my conclusions. But more and more, I find that people aren’t disagreeing on the basis of their understanding of the facts, but rather their complete dismissal of facts. This does not relegate itself strictly to one political party or type of person. It’s quite an equal opportunity type decline.

The steps through which I came to my decision, I was privileged to learn how to do during the course of my college career and that’s an important skill.  It’s something you want to use for the rest of your life.  College is a time to learn how to exercise your judgment. Use the time you spend in college to learn HOW to think and not WHAT to think, even if it makes you unpopular.